World Wira

Continuing my sweep through past photos, here are two trips to the Malay Peninsula in 1998. The first was a stop in Singapore on our way back to Australia from Europe, to visit my brother and sister-in-law, who had moved there from Hong Kong a year or so before. It was our first sight of its glittering skyscrapers and overly orderly lifestyle, and a chance to sample ais kacang (tasty) and durian (not to my taste). While we were there we took in the Jurong Bird Park, Singapore Zoo and the Botanic Gardens, most of which we would revisit in later years. We also caught some of the Thaipusam festival, in which Hindu devotees wore elaborate wire frames hoisted on their shoulders and attached to skewers pierced through their bodies.

In the middle of the year, not long after moving back to Canberra, J. won—yes, won—a trip for two to the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, courtesy of Hardys Wines. (Sometimes it does pay to send in those competition forms on the bottle.) So, a few weeks later, we travelled with a contingent of Hardys sales reps and stayed in a swanky hotel in the middle of the city, spending a few days seeing the sights and taking in some of the games, including some swimming, track and field, and the closing ceremony featuring a guest appearance by the Queen. The games mascot, Wira the orangutan, smiled at us at every turn.

Along the way we took a lift to the top of the Petronas towers and were caught up in a crackdown on a protest by supporters of Anwar Ibrahim, who had just been removed as deputy PM by Mahatir Mohamad. We’d been exploring the unusually quiet National Museum, when suddenly the staff ushered us out of the building and ejected us onto the street. Over the road, we saw a crowd that had been gathering there before we had gone into the museum starting to scatter, while across a nearby bridge police with riot shields were marching towards them. I remember a Western journalist running out in front of the cops to take photos… we, meanwhile, walked as quickly as possible past them all and headed into a crowded market to get away.

While we were in KL my brother drove up from Singapore to see us, and we travelled with him into the Cameroon highlands and down to the old Portuguese trading port of Malacca, now a World Heritage site. We also visited Batu Caves, where Hindu shrines and temples have been built into the caves themselves, and troops of monkeys hassle tourists for food—we saw one snatch a drink out of a small girl’s hand and guzzle it.

The two trips were a good first taste of southeast Asia, which we would visit again two years later on a trip to Thailand. In the meantime, though, our travels would be closer to home

Peninsular Malaysia & Singapore 1998

21 October 2023 · Memory